Departments - September/October 2012

Case Study

Working Toward Wellness at Hilton Head Health

By Tammy York

Across the country, Americans are expanding—and not in a good way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of U.S. adults are obese and are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. As U.S. waistlines grow, so does the costs to employers.

Besides the increased costs for health insurance, there are significant costs due to productivity loss via absenteeism (not physically showing up for work) and presenteeism (showing up for work but not being productive). This results in a hefty price tag of $42.8 billion per year according to "The Costs of Obesity in the Workplace," a 2010 study. This comes with a total cost of a whopping $73.1 billion in which 41 percent is attributed to presenteeism, 18 percent to absenteeism, and 41 percent for medical expenditures.

One way companies can combat these hefty costs is to proactively offer a physical fitness support system. For the system to be accepted by staff, it must be enthusiastically supported by the company president as well as management.


Robert Moore, president and CEO of Hilton Head Health (H3), a premier health and wellness facility located in Hilton Head, S.C., instituted such a program. "The benefits were immediate. The insurance company decreased our premiums, and it was enough to basically fund the program for the entire year," said Moore. "The first year was a 3 percent reduction in premiums, and the second year a 7 percent reduction at a time when premiums were increasing 12 to 15 percent."

While H3 employees might know more about fitness and nutrition and be healthier than the average worker, it also proved to be a challenge to increase the level of H3's employees' fitness. Enter the idea of incentives, challenges, classes and a little friendly competition to get the ball rolling.

Incentives are based on a point system. Each activity is assigned a point value, and at the end of the month the self-reported points are turned in with proof of completion such as a photograph or receipt. The points are tracked, and the highly visible leaderboard is updated with the top performers' names and points. In addition to the leaderboard, there is also the Cadet of the Month, which highlights the progress of one employee who is doing really well at the program.

"It is about keeping employees engaged. With a lot of healthy competition, you aren't only competing with other employees and departments, you are competing with yourself," said Alicea Grover, marketing coordinator with H3. "With the point system, employees are rewarded for meeting personal health goals such as completing a fitness class or race, or taking a cooking class to learn how to cook healthy meals."

Every month staff meets to listen to a wellness coach walk them through the point of the month. "We also have a calendar with the extra activities such as fitness boot camps, Zumba, scavenger hunts, bike rides and more. I like it so much that I've adopted the calendar as my exercise diary," said Moore. "On the back of the calendar is a list of activities and their point values."

Activities also include a book club, volunteering, webinars, fitness classes, healthy cooking classes, biking, kayaking, swimming and hiking. There are also challenges such as the Step Challenge for employees to take 10,000 steps per day for at least four days per week.

"We also give points for community service or volunteering. That is part of the emotional benefit," said Moore. "I have seen when people are depressed and they get out of the house and help someone else—they feel better about their life."